A University of Maryland student team has once again achieved new aviation heights, this time by successfully lifting a helicopter and passenger through the sole use of solar power.
After successfully completing the longest duration flight for a human-powered helicopter in fall of 2013, the UMD Gamera Team, a student team originally inspired in 2012 by the American Helicopter Society’s Sikorsky Prize, has continued raising the bar. In 2014, a new group of undergraduate students took over Team Gamera, reinventing itself as Solar Gamera to test the feasibility of applying solar power in achieving human helicopter flight.
Constructed from balsa wood, foam, mylar and carbon fibre, the Gamera helicopter has been designed into a giant x formation with the pilot seated in the centre. Attached to the end of the 60 feet long arms is a 42-foot rotor.
While electronic controls offer an advantage over Gamera’s human-powered predecessor, the challenge of lifting a 100-foot square rotorcraft solely through solar power has posed its own unique set of challenges. The craft may never engage in long-distance flight, but through this project’s immense hands-on opportunities, students hone their engineering chops and find focus for their future.